Looking for ways to stress less? These tips can help you relax your body and mind.

Taking your stress levels down a notch is easier said than done when you’re overwhelmed. While stress may seem like a fact of adult life, it’s not something that we need to just accept or ignore.

In fact, sky-high stress levels can harm your mental and physical health over the long term, leading to high blood pressure, lack of sleep, and heightened anxiety. It can also interfere with your productivity and relationships.

While it’s not realistic to eliminate all sources of stress, you can learn to find a balance between taking stressors off your plate and accomplishing what needs to get done.

1. Perform deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a common and effective stress relief technique.

This type of breathing requires you to use your diaphragm to take deep breaths. It allows your lungs to function fully, which doesn’t occur when you simply breathe normally. Your belly, rather than your chest, will expand to engage your diaphragm.

According to a 2017 study, diaphragmatic breathing can have a positive effect on sustained attention and cortisol levels — known as the stress hormone — by triggering relaxation responses.

Also commonly called belly breathing or abdominal breathing, deep breathing is also associated with reducing your blood pressure and heart rate, which can be tied to stress levels too.

2. Meditate

Meditation is the practice of focusing on your body while focusing on the present moment.

Mindfulness and meditation are effective stress relief methods that can also help improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rate.

There are many types of mediation, but the simplest form involves sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath — gently pushing away intrusive thoughts if they arise.

If you’re a beginner at meditation, know that distractions abound, but meditating gets easier every time you practice.

Meditation apps like Calm and Headspace can help you get started and make meditation a habit.

3. Practice progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves relaxing all the muscles in your body, group by group.

A 2015 study found PMR relieves symptoms of anxiety. To practice, you can start with a few deep breaths.

Then, practice tightening and relaxing each muscle group, starting with your forehead and moving down to your toes.

After each round of tensing for about 5 seconds, then releasing fully, pause to notice how that muscle group feels. By the end of this exercise, you should feel physical tension melting away.

4. Try guided imagery

Guided imagery is a type of meditation shown to aid in stress reduction.

This technique involves picturing a place that helps you to relax and achieve inner peace. Have one or a few ideas of relaxing places ready to go, so if anxiety hits, you don’t need to figure out what place to picture.

Guided imagery is more powerful if you can tap into all of your senses. If the beach is your happy place, start with a visual, then run through each sense:

  • the smell of saltwater and coconut sunscreen
  • the feel of hot sand between your toes
  • the caws of the seagulls overhead

A 2021 study showed that it can work in tandem with deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation techniques to positively impact your mental health and overall well-being.

5. Move your body

There’s no getting around the fact that getting regular exercise is important for overall health and well-being.

It can promote a positive outlook and help to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults, which may seem like a lot, but when divided by 5 or 7 days, it breaks down to only 30 or 20 minutes per day, respectively.

Consider making a morning walk around your neighborhood a daily habit.

6. Bond with your pet

Studies show that spending even a short time with a pet can significantly decrease anxiety levels by decreasing cortisol levels. They also help people get outside — perhaps on that morning walk — and feel happier overall.

If you don’t have a pet, you might consider volunteering at an animal shelter once a week or walking a neighbor’s dog to get in your cortisol-lowering cuddle time.

7. Set boundaries and stick to them

One of the most common culprits of high stress is over-committing. One way to start prioritizing your mental health is to set boundaries.

For example, you might make it a point to leave work at work and sign off completely for the night so that you can be present when it’s time to switch your focus to personal time.

Additionally, try not to be afraid to say no to helping out friends and family if it interferes with your plans or you don’t have the capacity for it.

8. Get enough sleep

It’s not a coincidence that a not-so-great day turns into a terrible day if you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of depression and stress.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7-9 hours of sleep at night. A few things that will help you achieve that golden slumber number:

  • go to bed at the same time every night
  • avoid scrolling on your phone in bed by leaving your devices in another room
  • limit daytime naps

It’s natural to experience high-stress levels at various points in adolescent and adult life. But that doesn’t mean you have to just accept the overwhelming feelings of tension or anxiety it may bring.

Science-backed relaxation techniques can reduce the amount of stress in your life. By taking control of your mental health and prioritizing your overall well-being, you can find a renewed sense of inner peace and balance.

If you’re still finding it difficult to manage stress levels, consider finding a good therapist to support you.

To learn more about therapy and how it can support you, you can check out Psych Central’s Understanding Therapy resource.